|Topical Bible Study||March 1963|
The People in God’s Plan—Lesson XX
The Minor Prophets
THERE are twelve of what are generally referred to as the “minor prophets” of the Bible. These are: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These prophets of the Lord were not “minor” in the sense that their prophecies are of minor importance, but rather by reason of the brevity of their messages as compared with those of the “major prophets,” Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Hosea was the son of Beeri. He served as God’s prophet during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah; and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. (Hosea 1:1) This was, of course, during the time when the nation was divided with ten tribes forming the northern kingdom known as Israel, and two tribes constituting the southern kingdom known as Judah.
Most of Hosea’s prophecies are directed against the people of Israel, and their fulfillment was in more or less of a local setting, and not too remote from the prophet’s own time. It is of value to us today to note these in the sense that they reveal that God notices the waywardness of those who profess to serve him, and in due time inflicts appropriate punishments upon them. They also reveal God’s grace and mercy in his willingness to forgive and take back into the fold of his care those who repent and in sincerity return to him and endeavor to serve him faithfully.
In addition to the general tenor of Hosea’s prophecy, there appear in his book some nuggets of truth related to God’s plan as a whole. The nation of Israel had entered into a covenant with the Lord. This was at Mt. Sinai, when Moses served as mediator between the people and their God. This covenant was based upon the Ten Commandments. Hosea points out that the people had transgressed that covenant even as Adam had transgressed his covenant with the Lord. (Hos. 6:7, margin) This reference to Adam is in the marginal translation. Statements like this reveal that God’s ancient people were acquainted with the Genesis record of creation, and that they knew about the transgression of our first parents. Adam, being created perfect and in the image of God, was by nature in covenant relationship with him. This relationship will be restored under the provisions of the promised New Covenant.—Jer. 31:31-34
Hosea also records a prophecy of the final restoration of the Israelites to God’s favor. (Hosea 5:15 – 6:3) This prophecy speaks of two “days” of disfavor, and foretells that after this, in the third day, the Lord would revive them and raise them up. In some instances a day with the Lord is as a thousand years. (II Pet. 3:8) And it could be that Hosea’s reference is to thousand-year days. This would indicate that the cast-off period would be, roughly, the two thousand years of the Gospel Age, and the “third day” would be the thousand-year period of Messiah’s kingdom. It will be during this period that Israel will be completely “raised up” to God’s favor, and when they will receive everlasting life.
Hosea records another prophecy in which it is revealed that the life-giving blessings which are yet to flow out to Israel, and to the whole world, will be the result of the fact that God provided a ransom. (Hosea 13:14; I Tim. 2:3-6) In this prophecy we are informed that the Lord would ransom the people from the power of the grave (sheol), and that eventually sheol, the state of death, will be destroyed. This is in keeping with other prophecies of God’s Word.—Rev. 21:4
The Prophet Joel
JOEL opens his prophecy by predicting an extraordinary plague of locusts, canker worms, and caterpillars which would come upon the land of Israel because of the sins of the people. This prophecy is expanded into a forecast of a great time of trouble which would come upon the whole world in “the day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:1-11,25) Joel describes “the day of the Lord” as being one of darkness and of gloominess, “as the morning spread upon the mountains; … there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.” This seems to link the fulfillment of this prophecy with that of Daniel’s in which he said that there would be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation; and Jesus said there would never be anything like it again.—Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21,22
Some commentators insist that Joel’s description of the Lord’s “great army” in this prophecy of trouble in the day of the Lord is merely a continuance of his forecast of the plague of locusts coming upon the land of Palestine. But a more critical study of the prophecy indicates that this is not so, although it is reasonable to suppose that the Lord’s great army is here likened to a plague of locusts.* Chapter 2, verses 19 and 20, suggests this symbolic fulfillment.
* “The Battle of Armageddon,” pages 543-547
Joel also was used by the Lord to forecast the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and during the Millennial Age, upon all flesh.* (Joel 2:28-31; Acts 2:16-21) This indicates that his prophecy cannot be limited to local circumstances in the land of Palestine, although these are mentioned by Joel even as all God’s prophets were used to deliver messages which were specially applicable to his typical people of Israel.
* “The Atonement Between God and Man,” page 219
Joel was used by God to forecast the regathering of the Israelites to Palestine in the “last days.” This is referred to as a bringing “again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem.” (Joel 3:1,2) In this prophecy Joel associates the bringing of the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem with a gathering of the nations into the valley of Jehoshaphat, interpreted in verse 14 as the “valley of decision.” We believe that we are living in the day when this prophecy is being fulfilled. How remarkable it is that contemporaneously with the regathering of the Jews to Palestine there would be such a warlike gathering of the Gentile nations of earth as we have witnessed in our generation!—Joel 3:9-11
The Prophet Amos
AMOS’ prophecy deals much with the sins of God’s typical people, and the punishments which would come upon them. But of greater interest to us at the present time is his prophecy of the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom and the regathering of Israel in these latter days. (Amos 9:11-15) In the New Testament this prophecy is quoted by James and given its true setting in the plan of God.—Acts 15:13-18
This prophecy refers to the time when the Lord would build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down. This seems to refer to a re-establishment of the kingdom of David in the hands of Christ.* (Luke 1:30-33; Isa. 9:6,7) The tabernacle, or house of David, is re-established, Amos explains, so that “they,” that is, those who participate in it—Christ and his joint-heirs—may possess, or rule over, the remnant of Edom, and all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this.” James quotes this as “the residue of men … and all the Gentiles.”
* “Thy Kingdom Come,” pages 256 and 257
The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, who sold his birthright, and this could be a reference to the fact that the nominal house of Israel—who sold their birthright to the chief blessings offered them—are, nevertheless, not forgotten by the Lord; but when the kingdom is established, they will be the first to have its blessings offered to them. Among these blessings are those mentioned in verses 14 and 15 of this chapter, which is the bringing again of their captivity, and their being planted upon their own land, never again to be “pulled up out of their land.”*
* “Thy Kingdom Come,” pages 243-245
The Prophet Obadiah
THE prophecy of Obadiah is the shortest of them all, being but one chapter in length. A considerable portion of this prophecy is a forecast of the overthrow of the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, the reason for this being their fierce opposition to the Israelites. The closing verse of the prophecy depicts the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom.—Obadiah 21
In this prophecy the spiritual phase of Messiah’s kingdom is mentioned under the symbol of “mount Zion.” We are told that Saviors shall come up on mount Zion. The fact that there will be more than one “savior” is a reminder that Jesus, as the new King of earth, will have associated with him those who have proved worthy to live and reign with him. (Rev. 14:1,4; 20:6) Obadiah makes a positive identification of the time when this prophecy will be fulfilled by saying that then the kingdom will be the Lord’s.
The Prophecy of Jonah
THE prophecy of Jonah is chiefly in narrative style and, in itself, scarcely seems like a prophecy. It tells of the prophet’s commission to go to Nineveh and announce the destruction of the city. Jonah shrank from fulfilling this commission and endeavored to flee from the Lord by ship, but the Lord intervened and brought the prophet back by a great fish which swallowed him when he was cast into the sea. Later he was again sent to Nineveh to declare God’s vengeance upon the city.—Jonah 1:1 – 3:1-3
It is Jesus’ reference to the experience of Jonah which gives the book its chief prophetic connotation. (Matt. 12:38-40) Jesus explained that just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the stomach of the great fish, so the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. In other words, Jonah’s experience was symbolic of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And Jesus explained to the scribes and Pharisees that his death and resurrection would be the only sign that would be given to that generation. But what a meaningful sign, especially the resurrection of Jesus, for it denoted that the great Jehovah was with him, and that he exercised his mighty power to raise him from the dead.
When Jonah was sent the second time to prophesy against Nineveh, he obeyed. However, the Ninevites repented and their city was saved. Jonah was displeased with this. There is no reference to this in the New Testament as being typical, but we can learn from it that usually the Lord is more merciful than his human servants. For this we can be glad.—Jonah 3:1 – 4:11
The Prophecy of Micah
MICAH, even as the other prophets of the Lord, was used to call Israel’s attention to her sins and to warn against dire punishments which would result from the people’s unfaithfulness to their covenant with the Lord. But again our chief interest is in his prophecies relating to the outworking of the divine plan of salvation for both Israel and the remainder of the world of mankind.
One of Micah’s prophecies relating to the plan of God told of the birth of Jesus. (Micah 5:2) This prophecy names Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus, and also refers to his pre-human existence, that his “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
In another prophecy by Micah, Jesus is referred to as “the tower of the flock.” (Micah 4:8) Jesus is, indeed, the tower of the “little flock.” This prophecy states that the “first dominion” would come to this “tower of the flock.” The “first dominion” is the one given to Adam. It was an earthly dominion, over the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air. (Gen. 1:26-28) Man forfeited this dominion through disobedience to divine law. It was redeemed by Jesus, and now, being the rightful owner of it, he will give it back at the close of his thousand-year reign, to all who, during that time of individual judgment, prove worthy of it.—Matt. 25:34
Micah also foretold the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom. (Micah 4:1-4) In this prophecy the kingdom is likened to a great mountain, even as in the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel. (Dan. 2:44; Isa. 25:6-9) This illustration should have been very understandable to the people of Israel, for God’s rulership over them was from Mount Zion in Jerusalem, and the mountain-kingdom referred to in Micah’s prophecy is spoken of as Zion and Jerusalem.
Micah foretold that the kingdom of the Lord would be established in the “last days.” This does not mean the last days of time, or the last days of human experience. The reference is, rather, to the last days of the reign of sin and death, when Satan has been the prince of the world.
In the “last days,” Micah wrote, “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains.” The mountain of the house of the Lord is the kingdom consisting of God’s ruling house. In ancient times, and, in fact, until 1914, the old world was governed largely by hereditary ruling houses. These were, in reality, ruling families in which the right, or authority, to rule, was passed on from one generation to another. In Micah’s prophecy the Lord uses this as an illustration, in part, of the kingdom arrangements of the Messiah.
Thinking of this symbolism, we could say that God also has a ruling house. It consists of his own family, of which Jesus is the chief. Associated with Jesus will be those who have suffered and died with him. These are described in the Bible as heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. (Rom. 8:17) These are raised from the dead at the end of the Gospel Age, that they might live and reign with Christ, and together with Jesus they constitute the “mountain,” or kingdom, of the house of the Lord.—Rev. 20:4
Micah’s prophecy states that the Lord’s mountain, or kingdom, is established in the “top” of the mountains. This simply symbolizes the fact that the kingdom of Christ will dominate in the affairs of all mankind; that eventually every knee shall bow to him and every tongue confess to his position of honor and glory throughout the earth, which will also be an acknowledgment of the glory of God.—Phi1. 2:9-11
When Christ’s kingdom is fully established, then the people of all nations shall flow into it, and will look to the Lord for instruction and help. The prophecy states that the “law shall go forth from Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” This is a reference to the two ruling phases of Messiah’s kingdom, Zion being typical of the spiritual phase, and Jerusalem of the earthly.*
* “The Battle of Armageddon,” page 628
The prophet Micah foretold that the Lord will then judge among the people, and rebuke strong nations afar off. That will be the great day of judgment, with the judgment work beginning on a national basis, and extending throughout the Millennium to all individuals. And when the people learn the Lord’s ways, and decide to walk in them, they will, symbolically speaking, beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks, and will learn war no more. Then there will actually be universal and lasting peace.
Micah also foretold that every man would dwell under his own vine and fig tree. This is a symbol of security and assurance that all needs will be provided. This assurance will then be given to all the willing and obedient. The Prophet Isaiah wrote of that time that nothing would hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain, or kingdom.—Isa. 11:9
Micah was used to set forth the basic requirements of the Lord for all who would be pleasing to him. (Micah 6:8) These requirements are simple, but when analyzed are found to be very exacting. They demand the practice of justice, the exercise of mercy and love, and that one should walk humbly with God, which means paying attention to the instructions of his Word, and wholeheartedly endeavoring to comply with them.
Why are the last twelve prophets of the Old Testament referred to as the “minor prophets”?
Who was Hosea, and when did he serve as prophet?
Against whom are the most of Hosea’s prophecies directed?
Explain Hosea’s reference to the fact that the Israelites had broken their covenant with God even as Adam had done.
Explain Hosea’s reference to the final restoration of the Israelites to God’s favor.
Explain Hosea’s prophecy that the Lord would ransom the people from the power of the grave.
How does Joel open his prophecy?
Explain Joel’s description of “the day of the Lord,” and how it harmonizes with the prophecies of Daniel and Jesus.
How did Joel forecast the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and during the Millennium upon all flesh?
Explain Joel’s prophecy concerning the regathering of Israel during the “last days.”
How does the New Testament guide us in the understanding of Amos’ prophecy concerning the re-establishment of the tabernacle of David?
Who are the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who will be blessed by the Lord as a result of the re-establishment of the tabernacle of David?
Quote the closing verse of Obadiah’s short prophecy and explain its significance with respect to the work of Messiah’s kingdom.
Relate the story of Jonah, and how he came to be swallowed by a great fish.
What lesson did Jesus draw from the experience of Jonah in being swallowed by a great fish, and how did Jonah’s experience pre-figure a sign that was given to the generation of Israelites which lived in Jesus’ day?
What helpful lesson can we draw from Jonah’s displeasure over the fact that God did not destroy the city of Nineveh at the time he had predicted?
To what situation does most of Micah’s prophecy refer?
Explain Micah’s prophecy concerning the birth of Jesus.
What did Micah mean in his reference to Jesus as “the tower of the flock” to whom would come “the first dominion”?
What symbolism does the Prophet Micah use with respect to the kingdom of Christ, and what is “the mountain of the house of the Lord”?
What are the “last days” referred to by Micah in which the kingdom will be established?
Explain who constitutes God’s ruling house. And how is the “first resurrection” related to their part in the kingdom?
What is meant by the Lord’s kingdom being established in the “top of the mountains”?
What is meant by the law going forth from Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem?
Explain the difference between national and individual judgment.
How will the people gain peace under Christ’s kingdom?
What is meant by dwelling under one’s vine and fig tree?
Explain God’s basic requirement of righteousness for all who would be pleasing to him.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT THOUGHTS
There are twelve so-called Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. Much in their messages is concerned with the sins of Israel, and the punishments which the Lord would visit upon them. There tare also references to the sins of surrounding nations. But each of these prophets speaks of important future events in the outworking of God’s great plan of salvation which is to culminate with the work of Christ’s thousand-year kingdom, through the agencies of which all the families of the earth will be blessed.